Not all of our collections are held on-site, when we first opened our doors back in 1888 we were not just a library. We were also a museum and archive for Barnstaple and the North Devon area.
Some of the items in our collections had been given to us when we were still the Literary and Scientific Institute (which was set up in 1845). There were many curious items from the local area and beyond.
When we came to move into the newly, purpose-built, library and record office 100 years later our museum items remained behind in our old building. The building had been sold to the district council who turned it into the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon and our museum items put on loan with them.
We also have collections on loan to Barnstaple Town Council in the Guildhall and our partner department, the North Devon Record Office which is now part of the South West Heritage Trust. The document collections on loan to the record office can be accessed within the public space we share with them during our opening hours.
One of the documents on loan with the record office is the rather colourful Grant of Arms, issued to John Hawkins of Plymouth in 1565/66. It also includes a second grant dated 1571 for Hawkins’ capture of Rio de la Hacha [Riohacha, Colombia] from the Spanish in 1568.
Amongst the items on loan to the Town Council is the Prior’s Ring, which can be seen in the Guildhall. The ring was discovered in Pilton during the nineteenth century and given to the Athenaeum some years later. The ring has inscriptions in both Latin and Hebrew.
The Museum collections contain a wide variety of objects including the most recognisable paintings of Barnstaple done in the early to mid 18th Century. It’s also the painting we use on our website!
There are more items in the stores at the museum than are able to be put on display which is one of the reasons they are currently fundraising to build an extension. To find out more about the museum and the Long-Bridge Wing Extension Project visit the Barnstaple & North Devon Museum Development Trust website.
We will be writing posts about some of the fascinating items you can find beyond the library walls in the future starting with the Oil Painting in the museum.